by Barbara Berkeley, MD
The huge ship that moved weightily and inevitably toward low fat eating and calorie counting has finally started to change course. This week, the Harvard Health Blog published an article titled, "There's no sugar-coating it: All calories are not created equal."
As readers of Refuse to Regain, you already know that calories are simply one attribute of food....and not the most important one. Despite this, we have come to rely on calories as the sum total of the fat storing experience. This is utterly simplistic and ignores a number of obvious facts.
First: Calories are simply measurements of energy and have absolutely no relation to the processes that are triggered by eating. Sugars, Proteins and Fats provoke different hormones and processing when consumed, thus they are vastly different. Each food may have 100 calories, but the way the body deals with the food based on its composition is completely different. Saying that a calorie is a calorie is like saying that a medicine is a medicine. Yes, that's true, but it says nothing about the fact that blood pressure medicine and pain medicine have utterly different effects in the body.
Second: Arguably the most important hormone involved in fat storage is insulin. Fats and proteins do not stimulate a large flow of insulin, but sugars and starches do. The body is easily able to convert sugar into fat, and under the influence of insulin the body often does so.
Third: We want to persist in believing that burning more calories will cause weight loss and eating fewer calories will do the same. This completely ignores the fact that the body is a flexible biological machine whose job is to preserve the status quo. If your body wants to remain at 170, it can do it through a large range of caloric and behavioral changes. Exercise more, eat less, exercise less, eat more? The body is still able to stay the same weight. This is the annoying fact that causes most people to give up on diets. Yes, there is a way to lose weight, but only if caloric restriction is significant, consistent and prolonged. The vast majority of dieters never achieve this goal.
The simple recipe for success? Lose weight through consistent caloric restriction. Maintain weight by avoiding carbohydrates except for fruits and vegetables. For most of us ,in my opinion, grain and whole grain avoidance will be helpful and may be necessary. By closely watching your scale, figure out just how much food your body can tolerate in order to keep your lower weight stable. Also figure out exactly how many carbs you can consume without weight gain and without stimulating carb cravings and "addiction". In time, you will know exactly what your formula is and using it will become second nature.